“Justice delayed is justice denied.”
–William Gladstone (1809-1898)
American voters have short memories, but most remember that executives who headed the nation’s major financial and mortgage firms that led to the 2008 real estate crash the subsequent eight-year-long recession were never prosecuted for their criminal derelictions of duty.
Americans watched as the presidential administrations of George Bush and Barack Obama (with the assistance of
Eric Holder and Tim Geithner) failed to prosecute senior-level executives. Both seriously damaged the justice system even as this very visible evasion was noticed by the public.
Now, we have more instances of intentional failures to prosecute events in the history of the Trump businesses and his presidential administration that is reinforcing the reality that there are two systems of justice working simultaneously in the U.S.
The marshmallow conclusions of the long-awaited Mueller Report should be placed alongside the failures of the Southern District of New York (the proverbial cavalry that never arrives) and the Manhattan District Attorney to bring any cases against Trump businesses during their decades of dealings in New York. This failure, intentional or not, is why Trump has boasted he could “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.” He was probably telling the truth, at least based on his success in being unaccountable for past activities.
So, it is no surprise that Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a challenge from more justice-minded Democrats. Like many other experienced politicians, Pelosi is waiting for a political sea change among her Republican counterparts that will probably never come. Or, if it does, it will happen in dog years.
The DNC is obsessed with the mirror on the wall that consults Washington insiders, pollsters, and corporations rather than gauging grassroots activities. This is one reason Hillary Clinton ignored the powerful populist messages of Bernie Sanders and why she waited too long to incorporate them into her campaign. Trump saw the power of Bernie’s populist message and perverted it into his sociopath presentations, but it worked.
At best, American political justice is a slow process. And even when it works, waiting for grassroots changes in today’s distorted and professionally managed social media and billionaire donor world in a glacial process. Such public delays, however, are dangerous and call into question the nation’s ethical and moral compass.
Conservatives and liberals’ recoil when they see people getting away with things the average citizen can never evade. So, it is no wonder the perception of injustice is as bad as evading justice. When this perception is buttressed with the huge wealth gap between classes, it raises fundamental questions about the nation’s legal, economic and political systems and whether America is a rigid, class-based society.
The inability of the Democrat Party to pursue justice versus the decision to wait for more reports from the district and U.S. attorneys has political merits, but the delay damages citizen confidence. While there are studies that show citizens, especially younger ones, do not believe capitalism is working on their behalf, there is one measure that shows a major goal of the American Dream no longer is worth pursuing.
The bad news is that many Americans think that all three core systems—legislative, judicial and executive–are broken and corrupt. This is why the 2020 election could be a make-or-break event for many voters.
Do You Believe in America?
Since the 2008 recession, more Americans than ever before voluntarily decided to default on their mortgages. At the time, this represented a change in the way home ownership was perceived. It re-set the relationship with mortgage companies and made the decision to buy a home one based on purely investment return factors rather than the traditional one of achieving the American Dream.
These “strategic defaults” were based purely on the house’s investment return potential versus the mortgage obligation. If the house fell in value versus what was owed, the property reverted back to the lender.
This makes good business sense. After all, Trump uses bankruptcy as a core business practice and helps explain why he went bankrupt six times. But when strategic mortgage defaults are adopted by average Americans, some pundits, such as the conservative FOX business reporter Neil Cavuto, have called it “obscene” and also compared the mortgage defaulters to armies surrendering to the Nazis during World War II.
Re-thinking Home Ownership
Other conservatives called mortgage defaulters “unethical” and “obscene,” even as the huge investment firm Morgan Stanley stopped paying a mortgage on five office buildings in San Francisco in 2010, as cited in the paper, “Walking away from an American Dream, or How a Million Strategic Defaults Helped America Rethink Homeownership,” by Blake Abbott, Argumentation and Advocacy, 2018, Vol. 54, nos. 1-2.
In this paper about the societal shift in home ownership that happened after the 2008 recession, Abbott noted: “The rise of strategic defaults coupled with dramatic drops in homeownership rates called into question the American Dream of homeownership. When a million Americans abandoned their homes voluntarily rather than being forced out, reporters and analysts interpreted the trend as a sign that the Great Recession had altered the American Dream of homeownership as an ideology.”
Just as home ownership buttressed the traditional American ideals of individual responsibility, pride in their property and strong civic engagement, the rise in voluntarily mortgage defaults broke many of those aspirational goals. This happened because the house was commoditized as a purely financial investment.
Similarly, public displays of flaunting the law, failing to comply with subpoenas and other serious public transgressions by Trump personally and in his businesses over the decades only reinforces the class warfare model. In this model, there are two sets of justice: one for the top 1% and another for average Americans.
Today, it’s clear there are two justice systems, just as there are two economic systems. The momentum to impeach Trump is building because many Americans want justice and a system based on equality and equal access.
They also know that the 2020 election may not bring significant changes to the corrupt system if the wrong Democrat candidate is nominated and certainly not if Trump wins again. But nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come, so let’s see if American justice really works or if it too is broken.